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THE PIPELINE: Influence--Real Makerspaces in School Libraries

By Stephen Abram - Posted Jan 1, 2015
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Are makerspaces flashy trends or core to our mandate? There are a ton of good reasons for makerspaces in school libraries, but first we have to frame the question properly.

And that question is, “Why?”

Framing an initiative is the best way to stay focused and on track. If we frame it poorly, we get distracted by the shiny, trendy, and new, and we remove our focus from the real issues at hand. Makerspaces are one of these technologies that can be viewed as trendy or as essential to a fully formed learning environment in your library strategies. Bright, shiny, exciting things—3D printers, robotics, animation and digital creation tools for video and music, etc.—can divert our attention And this is just fine as a first step of investigation, but it is truly bad if we just use them as ornaments, fetishes, and icons in our libraries. We need to ensure that we evolve our discussions to think about how these relate to the real problems we’re trying to solve for the progress and success of
our learners.

While it’s sometimes viewed as a barrier to progress, planning is essential. It’s also time-consuming and involves the really hard part of any strategy—bringing people on-side.

So, let’s start with some ideas of the big issues we might be able to address with “making” strategies. Here are a few off the top of my head:

* Can the school library support a full range of learning styles and diversify its support beyond primarily text
and tech?

* What can we do to address the underrepresentation of females in STEM education in the higher grades and higher education?

* What can we do to support teen boys to encourage success and confidence in reading, creation, writing, and STEM?

* Can we really, truly influence the “A” in STEAM (Arts)? How do we support those learners who have talents and need to explore career success in what Richard Florida describes as the “creative class”?

* How do we broaden access to our collections of books and resources to support exploration, discovery, creativity, innovation, and learning?

These five questions can begin to address whole-school learning partnerships. The library usually has the space, talent, skills, technology, hours, and collections. This is a great place to start to frame the arguments for the support, both from a financial and professional point of view, to engage strategic champions to make a difference in the whole-school goals.

So, the “Why?” question starts with understanding the key challenges facing your school, your board, your learners. How can your library contribute through the development of makerspaces? Money follows strategy. Money connects to those who are known quantities, trusted, and engaged. That said, makerspaces, as much as any other initiative, don’t need to emerge fully formed. Just as a butterfly starts as an egg, emerges as a caterpillar, enters a cocoon, and blossoms into a beautiful butterfly, makerspaces have their stages of metamorphosis too.

Since good thinking comes from good questions, not just plain sense answers, let’s add another question:

“What is making?”

It seems like a simple question, but it’s not. It’s not simple manufacturing and printing a 3D head of Yoda, although that’s one example. Making comprises a great deal. Just to explore it a little, here’s a short list:

* Writing a book, poem, short story.

* Publishing.

* Building a robot.

* Exploring Arduino and making circuits.

* Using Lego to learn to build and design, then expanding to CAD/CAM and robotics.

* Cooking.

* Woodworking.

* Knitting, sewing, handicrafts.

* Making an app.

* Building a website.

* Building a computer game.

* Using tools to create art, sculpture,
and more.

* Making and editing films, stop-motion, documentaries, etc.

* Making fishing lures.

This list could go on forever. Humans are an amazingly creative species, and the limits of human imagination fundamentally know no boundaries. With this in mind, the limits of libraries are not in books or websites. Libraries are places where people can dream with their eyes open.

Looking at the list, you’ll note that for some of these ideas, you often have nearly everything you need to make it happen. Macs and iPhones come ready to make films and edit them. A simple can of green paint on a wall serves as a foundation for digital film practice and development. Our collections and web resources offer scads of content (video and text) and instructions. And with a little upgrading, we can turn technology stations into hackerspaces and programming stations. Evolution is rarely about the completely new and usually about incremental adaptation. That’s the point where most school libraries are at right now. We are exploring the future with our learners and inventing the future of school libraries built on a foundation of knowledge, learning, faculty partnerships, diverse content, and a laserlike focus on the student.

In these early days, we see a bunch of examples to learn from. We can learn from our colleagues, read up on case studies, make visits, listen at conferences, and dip a toe into the water with pilot efforts and short experiments before we choose what our first steps should be in our school’s context.

Ellyssa Kroski has done a great job of
defining where the maker movement has segmented at this point, and I learn and borrow from her research here: oedb.org/ilibrarian/4 -flavors-makerspaces. I find this taxonomy of the four types of makerspaces useful, so I’m exploring it here as well as including her short list of resources, since I think it needs wider distribution.

So what are the four flavors of makerspaces? Kroski divides them up into FabLabs, Hackerspaces, TechShops, and Makerspaces.

FabLabs provide access to modern means for invention such as electronics equipment, laser cutters, routers, and milling machines in order to enable makers to create nearly anything. There are currently more than 200 FabLabs in 30-plus countries around the world.

Hackerspaces are also called hacklabs or hackspaces. Hackerspaces are places where computer programmers, makers, DIY’ers, and artists converge to collaborate and socialize. Hackerspaces were originally started by computer hackers but have since expanded to encompass many other activities such as creating physical objects and conducting instructional workshops. There are currently more than 1,800 hackerspaces in more than 20 countries around the world.

TechShops are for-profit spaces that offer public access to industrial tools and equipment such as welding equipment, sewing machines, woodworking equipment, 3D printers, and more to build their own projects. They charge a membership fee.

Makerspaces are creative DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. They usually have 3D printers as well as electronic equipment available, and some also have metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts equipment. Makerspaces are used by schools and libraries to provide valuable skills in math and engineering to children and patrons of all ages.

To Kroski’s list I’d add the following innovative library spaces I’ve noted this year. We’re a creative lot!

Bakerspaces These take advantage of staff room and kitchen spaces in libraries to add value to cookbook collections with training in cookery, being a chef, veganism, vegetarianism, nutrition, and more on healthy eating.

Writing Labs Libraries are stepping up to the plate by expanding author visits and book clubs to support a wide range of writing initiatives. Some run poetry and short story contests. (April is National Poetry Month.) Some support NaNoWriMo (National Novel writing Month). Some have writers in residence and offer editing and novel writing advice services using experts and collections. Some have a borrow-an-author event. And quite a few now support self-publishing through the library or other spaces such as Amazon and Lulu.

Art Shows Libraries are often community artist galleries. Supporting creativity in the library is already part of our portfolio. Some libraries are offering sculpture and painting classes as well as video art, documentary and YouTube creation collections, and more.

Music By adding digital music creation tools and headphones to their computers libraries can do a lot. Some have Rock the Shelves events, final four garage band activities, and more.

So how do these answer the questions I posed up front in this issue’s column? Here is what I think:

Can the school library support a full range of learning styles and diversify its support beyond primarily text and tech?

Yes. Maker strategies support those who may be great learners but may not be the greatest readers unless they find the right motivation to read. Maker activities can support their learning preferences and talents while giving them a motive to research and read—in print and
online. It’s win-win.

What can we do to address the underrepresentation of females in STEM education in the higher grades and higher education?

Sometimes, girls just don’t get enough opportunities to find their talents in technical and engineering activities. Working with robotics, making, creating can allow these talents to emerge and be experienced. Getting to know your true self as a teen is a real gift.

What can we do to support teen boys to encourage success and confidence in reading, creation, writing, and STEM?

Boys are overrepresented in school drop-out rates. Research has tied this to issue with reading. Giving boys a motivation to read to develop skills they might care about—games, apps, creations, robots and more—can be transformative and help them to bridge to their adult lives successfully .

Can we really, truly influence the “A” in STEAM (Arts)? How do we support those learners who have talents and need to explore career success in what Richard Florida describes as the “creative class”?

As we note above, maker is about more than 3D printing. You can create music, film, programs, games, art, lyrics, and more if given the opportunity and space. Importantly, this is a big employment sector as well. Not everyone is a great reader, math genius, or sports star. We can support the success of all learners.

How do we broaden access to our collections of books and resources to support exploration, discovery, creativity, innovation, and learning?

This one warms the hearts of librarians. Our collections of print and digital resources support all of these types of spaces and the maker movement. Indeed, it’s not competition for or a replacement of what we do, but fundamental to our core businesses of learning and research.

All we need to do is to break our own inertia and try a few experiments. Like our learners, we learn best by doing—not
just reading.

And like our learners, we like to have fun too.

 

Contact Stephen at stephen.abram@gmail.com.

 

Resources:

Learn More About FabLabs:

List of all International FabLabs: (fabfoundation.org/fab-labs)

The Fab Foundation: (fabfoundation.org/)

The International Fab Lab Association (fablabinternational.org)

FabCentral at MIT: (fab.cba.mit.edu)

 

Learn More About TechShops:

List of TechShop locations (techshop.ws/locations.html)

TechShop website (techshop.ws/index.html)

“TechShop’s Not-So-Secret Ingredient” (makezine.com/magazine/make-40/techshops-not-so-secret-ingredient/)

TechShop Wikipedia entry (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TechShop)

 

Learn More About Makerspaces:

List of Makerspaces (spaces.makerspace.com/makerspace-directory)

Make Magazine (makezine.com)

MakerSpace Community (makerspace.com)

“Maker Culture” Wikipedia entry (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker_culture)

“7 Things You Should Know About Makerspaces” (net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7095.pdf)

Makerspaces Meetup Groups (makerspaces.meetup.com)

 

Here are even more resources:

“Resources: Makerspaces and Hackerspaces” (inventtolearn.com/resources-makerspaces-and-hackerspaces)

 
 
 
 


 
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